Heroism: It All Counts, Right?

I’ve spent a couple of years trying to figure out how my very smart dog—who can remember and break into any place food is stored—can have such an extremely short memory. Every day, when Scout the Lab sees the horrible menace of the mail truck as it stops in front of the house, we have a frenzied barkfest: look! That truck! What’s it doing on my road? I’ve never seen that before! Very dangerous! I’ll scare it away for you right now. And it works every time. The truck goes away, the home is safe. He expects a treat. (He also saves us from birds that fly into his territory. God help the UPS delivery man and people who walk their dogs in front of our house.) Obviously, he’s a hero. So I should have known Scout would throw himself in harm’s way for us.

(Left to right) Scout, Barb, and Roxy

Yesterday we were out hiking in the woods as usual, Scout, me, my husband, Alan, and dear friend, Barb, with one of her two Labs. Here’s what you need to know about Barb’s dog. She’s only had her for two days. Part of an extensive program, Roxy is a gorgeous one-year-old yellow female; she’ll be used for several cycles as a breeding dog for Lab puppies that will ultimately be raised in other homes and trained as service dogs for handicapped people. Roxy’s special—exceptional health and calm temperament. Barb and her husband were likewise chosen as exceptional people, able to give her a forever home while allowing her to be bred for this purpose. They signed multiple agreements.

Roxy was fully leashed yesterday, while Scout was off leash, carrying his ever-present tennis ball. Did I mention that Roxy is strong? She is remarkably obedient, remarkably calm, remarkably strong.

Above the spillway on a day when the river is slow and low.

Everything was peachy–a lush day of hot afternoon sun–until we stupidly decided to head through the woods to let the panting dogs get a drink from the river. Even more stupidly, we went to a section just above the spillway. Did I mention how much rain we’ve had recently? How high and hard the river is running?

Apparently, Roxy was pretty thirsty. She caught a glimpse of that water and took off, dragging Barb relentlessly over the rocky embankment. Have I mentioned how strong Roxy is? Barb was about to be pitched head first into the river when Roxy jumped for the water, and the leash was jerked from Barb’s hand. That would have been fine; Labs are great swimmers. Except that the current was so unusually fast, Roxy was almost immediately swept over the spillway.

The spillway as it normally looks!

Well, Roxy could have still been fine. But, swimming like mad, she kept trying to climb back up the spillway, which isn’t possible. What she needed to do was turn around and swim downstream with the current to get to the side. This generally comes naturally to our Labs, but maybe not with three humans and a barking dog screaming instructions at you? When Roxy didn’t turn right away, unwilling to chance that she wasn’t going to, Alan climbed down the bank below the spillway, and into the river he plunged after her.

Scout in the shallows.

No, he didn’t stop to discuss it. Or take off his shoes. Or to toss his wallet, car keys, or watch down first. This was a man and dog code red. Into the river. “It’s okay,” he yelled, in to his waist: “I’m fine! Not deep!” Oops, suddenly chest deep. Then, over his head. Did I mention Alan’s not a world champion swimmer? (He’ll now deny this true fact forevermore. Not that a beautiful freestyle was a great possibility in the roiling current, anyway.)

Well, Scout would have none of that. What’s hero practice for after all? He saw Alan and Roxy in the water, barked I’ll save you! and leapt in the river. No, he wasn’t smart enough to throw himself in below the spillway. He jumped in exactly where Roxy had, and the racing water shot him over the spillway, which clearly hadn’t been part of his plan.

Now there were two dogs and one man in the river, and two women on the bank pointing and screaming the only sensible thing: go downstream, go downstream!

As luck (and honestly, it was luck) would have it, there was a large branch floating in the middle of the river. Alan grabbed for it. He got himself behind Roxy, got them both downstream enough to work her over to the bank and shove her onto land from behind.

(Scout later pointed out that he swam downstream and climbed out on his own after seeing that he’d saved Alan and Roxy, thank you very much. He swims that river every damn day, after all. You just have to stand ready for emergencies at all times.)

My heroes.

P.S. Kids, please don’t try this at home.

15 Responses to Heroism: It All Counts, Right?

  1. Oh Lynne! What an experience. I hope Alan hasn’t caught a cold. I’ve got to share this with our Mike and Jen. They are now living next door to one another. The Jenkins have two labs, Abby and Rosa. Mike has their big brother appropriately named Big Foot. He also has a very sweet mutt named Romie. When the girls come out to play, Mike swears that Big Foot smiles. When we all go to Mike’s cabin in Indiana, all three labs swim in the lake together. Romie watches from the sidelines. So far, no one has needed to be saved, but should it happen, our precious Lili would be the one to jump in without a second thought – just like Alan!

    • Judi, Alan’s not only fine, he’s nonchalant about the whole episode. He was only bothered by the loss of his pocket calendar, in which he writes down the appointments that he’s going to forget anyway. I hope Lili’s lifesaving services won’t ever be needed for your family Labs!

  2. I just about needed CPR as I was reading this! What a foolish thing to do, Alan. When I lived in Charlottesville, a man was walking his Lab along a swollen river when the dog jumped in. The owner went in after the dog; neither survived. That said, I did almost the same thing years ago when Toby went into the Greenbrier River at our cabin & couldn’t swim against the current. I, too, jumped in & was able to hold to a tree branch while I grabbed his collar & hauled him back to the bank. Then, last summer I chased a bear that was about to eat Linden. The things we do for dogs…

    • I can imagine this story would be right up your alley, Debra. I remember your writing about chasing down a bear in defense of your dog. It sort of puts this raging river story in perspective, maybe! Tame stuff… .

    • Really nice of you to say, Jim. As you’ve doubtless seen, I don’t post often; only when I have a story that seems worth telling. I’m really happy to have you as a reader.

  3. Am I mistaken, Lynne, or is this the first of your blogs to be illustrated? Touch o’ class, that.

    Your opening paragraph brings back memories of a you-had-to-be-there-but-I’ll-try-to-convey-it-in-words-anyway moment I experienced one night sleeping on the couch of a home I’d never visited before. The stairs leading up to my hosts’ bedroom was near the couch, and the big family hound planted himself bravely before it and began barking at this sleepy intruder to his sanctum sanctorum. Then he stopped for a moment to turn his head up toward where his master and mistress were sleeping. You could read the expression on his face as clearly as if he were a character in a Looney Toon: “Did they hear that? Can they tell I’m protecting them from this intruder? Will they come down and see how valiant I am?” And then he went back to barking at me. And then he went back to looking anxiously upstairs. And then he went back to barking… He kept on alternating those two modes of expression — bark, look, bark, look — hoping in vain that his two humans would come down and see how well he was protecting them. And then he walked away, and I went back to sleep.

    • Other posts have had pictures, Preston, but maybe not so many. I only wish I’d thought to take pictures of the river that day, and also my soggy but triumphant husband (even though Scout will still insist it was he who saved them all). And–it sounds like your friends had one fine dog who did his job well. Apparently your hosts had forgotten to tell him that you were on the approved visitor list.

  4. OMG! What an incredibly terrifying experience! I think water is the most powerful, frightening element in nature because it’s a tease. Fire is always a known hazard, but water can be placid and peaceful. And that Alan jumped into the water to save the dog! That is true courage, although I suppose it raises the question of when is the brain taken over by adrenaline? When is it that courage begins? Now . . . whether it was heroics or instinct on Scout’s part, that’s another matter. And do dogs’ actions come from love and loyalty, or is it simply programmed into their brains to fetch and save?

    • Scout says it’s love, loyalty and, in his case, being both unusually brilliant and heroic. I don’t know, Emily. He did have a martini in his paw at and was toasting himself at the time he asserted this. (Oh wait. That might have been Alan.)

  5. What a story! How scarey that must have been. So glad everyone is OK. Beautiful dogs!
    Like Preston, I noticed the large photos now featured with each blog. Very nice!

    • Thanks, Susan. Yes, at the time, it was sort of terrifying. Amazing how tame the area looked a couple days later. We joke about it now, but I definitely don’t want to repeat it. Glad you like the pics.

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